Carol Stream's 'Christmas Sharing' to help families returns stronger as a drive-through
Some of Santa's most dependable helpers have brought joy to kids on Christmas morning for more than 40 years.
You could say the Jolly Old Elf has a whole legion of them in Carol Stream, a town that pulls together to ensure families in need can still give their children holiday magic.
Nearly every corner of Carol Stream unites behind the Christmas Sharing gift-giving drive. Police, social workers, elected officials, businesses, students, churches, residents. They all show a spirit of generosity.
But this year, staring down a pandemic, Christmas Sharing organizers made a greater commitment. They wouldn't merely muddle through somehow.
To keep the tradition alive, the annual distribution of new toys and groceries, now in its 43rd year, turned into a drive-through Wednesday, the culmination of season-long efforts spearheaded by the social services unit of the Carol Stream Police Department.
"As we watched the COVID numbers it became obvious that we had to do it differently this year," said Carol Stream Trustee Mary Frusolone, who was one of dozens of volunteers. "This is just amazing. The community's coming together for this."
Kathleen McNamara, the unit's supervisor, has helped run Christmas Sharing for many of those years. But she was amazed at the donations that poured into the 2020 collection drive. People still stepped up to give, undeterred by their own financial hardships during the COVID-19 crisis.
"Despite the pandemic and the challenges we know that people are experiencing, we have actually received more," McNamara said. "And just the quality of the toys has blown us away, just deluxe, beautiful, beautiful toys."
More families than in previous years -- 165 -- signed up to receive 1,350 toys for nearly 400 children. Christmas Sharing also provided families with food, personal care items and a holiday meal box through the Northern Illinois Food Bank.
All of it added up to their biggest offering yet, organizers say.
"Being new in the organization, I am entirely impressed with how engaged staff is in it and how committed they are to providing this event to the community," said Police Chief Bill Holmer, who took the helm of the department in July. "It's a big deal. There's a lot of time and effort that gets put into it, and I think people recognize the good that it does, the amount of people it helps."
Instead of the usual community food drive, Christmas Sharing incorporated a mobile food pantry to deliver more nutritious, higher-quality groceries, even dairy, at a greater volume.
McNamara credited Marina Mattingly, Carol Stream Rotary Club president, for leading that new component of the program.
"I call these the blessings of the pandemic, if you will, because it kind of forced us to think differently and figure out how we would adapt," McNamara said.
Retired Deputy Police Chief Jerry O'Brien made an appearance as Santa, this time greeting families from a golf cart decorated with lights and ornaments by current Deputy Chief John Jungers and Sgt. Brian Cluever. Santa delivered candy canes and spoke with almost every child in line for two hours.
Rotary Club and CERT volunteers pulled food off pallets to put in cars as families rolled through the parking lot of the Carol Stream Park District's Fountain View Fitness recreation center.
Would McNamara call them all Santa's helpers? She gives them another title.
"We are essentially goodwill brokers," she said.